Artwork by Gloria Shoki
Zamorka (Black Girl) is an 1895 oil on canvas portrait of a black woman, by the Slovenian artist Anton Azbe. Painted in the style of realism, Azbe viewed the painting as being exemplary of the proper use of colours to depict subjects as they really are. The unnamed woman in the portrait, appears contemplative and doleful, her gaze directed at the nearby distance and away from the centre.
In my interpretation, the figure’s eyes meet the viewers’. Rather than shy and withdrawn, I hoped to portray the figure as confident and present. In Azbe’s original portrait, the colours used are cool and dark, creating a sombre atmosphere, whereas I deployed warmer and brighter colours to create a mood of upliftment and triumph. In both versions, the figure’s hair is a point of focus, as a striking feature that in its elevation, appears to be defying gravity. Yet, in mine I hoped that the use of all the other elements would sharpen the primacy of the hair, as symbolic of a black woman’s defiance.
In Azbe’s times, women of colour would have been relegated to the lowest standing in society’s hierarchy, but in ours, women have risen to demand societal respect and equality. While Azbe titled his painting per the realist tradition of describing what is there, literally, a “black girl,” mine will be titled more symbolically. Therefore, it is called “Imbokodo,” a Xhosa word meaning rock. Azbe’s figure is reimagined as a pillar of strength and character.
As the struggle slogan goes:
Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo!
You strike a woman, you strike a rock.
Medium: Acrylic on canvas